A new format and new course await Ferris State University’s Disc Golf Team and its supporters. The program will have an opportunity to defend its College Disc Golf National Championship, Wednesday, April 7 through Sunday, April 10.
Associate Provost of Academic Operations Leonard Johnson is Ferris’ Disc Golf Coach. He said the Ferris contingent was on 2020 spring break in Memphis before participation in its final national qualifying event in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The rapid advance of COVID-19 suspended all events, including Ferris’ defense of its men’s 2019 national title.
“We were preparing confidently, having won three titles over a five-year stretch. So, having to pause, then break off our schedule was heartbreaking,” Johnson said. “Since two team members were seniors coming up on graduation, they were just devastated.”
Organizers of the 2021 College Disc Golf National Championship agreed to extend eligibility to those competitors who were eligible for the previous year’s finals. There will be some format changes for the event, set for the North Cove Disc Golf and Social Club in Marion, North Carolina.
“We were given the grace to present a roster that includes those who faced a delayed opportunity to compete due to the events of the last year,” Johnson said. “There will be fresh faces getting their chance, along with those who hope to complete their careers with another title.”
Ryan Brophy, of Hudsonville, a graduate of Ferris’ Pharmacy school, will join the teams as a coach, having competed for Ferris in local, regional and championship play in six years.
“I was president of Ferris’ Disc Sports Club for five years, playing in each of the three championship seasons and earning All-American honors, my senior year,” Brophy said. “Leonard continues to bring great energy to this program, which has allowed us to build and maintain a level of excellence in play. I have come to enjoy my interactions with the team members, whether they are former teammates or new competitors.”
Johnson said in the interest of participant health and safety, the flights of four players in match play will instead present two participants in an alternate-shot format.
“There are 65 teams scheduled to compete from across the country,” Johnson said. “We really have not been able to present our players the level of competition they would typically have prior to the national championship or practice as frequently as we would in a pre-COVID season. We will have players ready as substitutes should there be an issue about the health of one of our competitors. We expect, due to the tournament format this year, the depth of our team will not prove to be the asset it has been in previous title bids.”
Rachel Dupre, of Gladwin, will be participating in her first College Disc Golf National Championship, the Pharmacy student said she did her best to build skills during the winter.
“I was preparing to compete in 2020 when the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic,” Dupre said. “When there were open tournaments to enter, I got involved because that helps you learn about the talents you need to develop. I am pleased that my teammates are so supportive and working to improve my game, as our advisers and coaches are. Ryan Brophy and Carl Bouman, a former team member who works in town, give us great input. Even our opponents are gracious when I make a good shot.”
Dupre said she looks forward to her championship flight pairing with Tianna Halfaday, of Hannahville, a 2019 All-American for Ferris.
“I will also compete in singles, which has me a bit nervous,” Dupre said. “Tianna’s experience and ability have me very excited for our shared opportunity.”
Patrick Nemmer, of Kentwood, is a 2020 Ferris graduate using the extended eligibility provision to compete in North Carolina. The Heavy Equipment Engineering alumnus was on the 2019 championship team.
“It is a real silver lining, having this chance to pursue another championship,” Nemmer said. “I will be in the championship two-man flight with Caleb Mergener, of Portage, who is a Michigan College of Optometry student. He has moved up from the first flight to join me, we hope our experience at this level will be a benefit.”
Johnson said the North Cove Disc Golf and Social Club is a facility solely dedicated to presenting this sport, with short and long courses available for the competition.
“Organizers are doing a great job trying to promote what is an exciting sport,” Johnson said. “There is a Facebook page dedicated to this year’s championship. We know this will be a tight competition, and we are facing some difficulty, as a competitor who has graduated cannot make the trip with us. I know all our participants will give it their best shot.”